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Sectarian Strife Rises in Iraq as Dozens of Bodies Found

A leading candidate to become Iraq's next interior minister said Wednesday's toll underscored the continuing deficiencies of Iraq's armed forces and intelligence services.

"We should build our armed forces as fast as possible. Also we should build our security system," said Sadi Amiri, a Shiite leader. He suggested bolstering the security forces with Kurdish and Shiite militias brought under the government's control.

Government ministries, including those responsible for defense and police forces, have been led by lame-duck ministers since the elections. Competition for leadership of those ministries has been highly contentious among various political factions. Talabani said he expected a cabinet to be announced Thursday, the next step in the formation of a post-election government.

The United States has spent more than $5 billion rebuilding Iraq's security forces, and President Bush has stated repeatedly that he would reduce the number of U.S. troops here only when Iraqi forces were ready to assume security responsibilities.

The discovery of the corpses in the Tigris revived earlier politically charged allegations that Sunni extremists had taken Shiite civilians hostage in the lawless central Iraqi town of Madain. The reports exposed sharpening Sunni-Shiite tensions in the area, with Shiite lawmakers warning over the weekend of sectarian war.

Iraqi troops on Monday swept into the town, but found no sign of hostages, and residents discounted claims of widespread Sunni-on-Shiite killings. Talabani said Wednesday, however, that authorities had found proof.

"It is not true to say there were no hostages," Talabani, a Kurdish former rebel leader, said at a news conference in Baghdad. "There were. They were killed, and they threw the bodies into the Tigris. . . . Terrorists committed crimes there."

As Talabani spoke with reporters, the al-Arabia satellite television network broadcast images of police in Sowera, about 12 miles downriver from Madain, digging graves in a river bank.

Police told al-Arabiya the bodies had piled up in nets placed in the river to stop the spread of water hyacinths. Riadh Sakhi, a policeman, said the dead included two school-age girls who had been placed in sacks. Sakhi said the bodies had been in the water for varying lengths of time, some of them for several weeks.

Photos distributed by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading Shiite political party, showed bodies that appeared to be in varying states of decomposition. Some appeared to have been killed recently.

Amiri, the Shiite leader, said authorities now had the names of those allegedly taken hostage in Madain, and hoped to identify the bodies retrieved from the river.

In other developments, at least five explosions rocked central Iraq Wednesday. Near the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, two Iraqis were killed and five were wounded when the driver of a fuel truck bearing government license plates detonated explosives in the vehicle, authorities said.

Two other bombs exploded in the violent Dora neighborhood of west Baghdad.

In Sadr City, a Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad, gunmen in a speeding car shot and killed a policeman, Ali Talib, as he walked toward his car, police Col. Hussein Abdulwahid told the Associated Press. In another part of east Baghdad, gunmen attacked a Health Ministry car, killing the driver and wounding an unidentified passenger, police said. Another roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded two others.

Special correspondent Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.

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